One rainy weekend afternoon recently, I was able to convince my teenage daughter to take a break from texting and watch the movie True Grit with me. She had started reading the Charles Portis classic on her Kindle last summer, and her progress getting through the book was slow, with its almost Shakespearean dialogue and prose. With a rare afternoon free of activities, I thought it would be a great chance for some father/daughter bonding over this wonderful and inspiring story.
In case you haven't read the book or seen the movie, the story is about a 14-year-old girl, Mattie, who sets out on her own to capture her father's killer (who has fled into the Indian territory) and bring him to justice. She hires a hard drinking U.S. marshal, whom she has been told has the "true grit" to get the job done despite his obvious weaknesses, to assist in her quest. Additionally, they are joined in their hunt by an egotistical Texas Ranger who has been chasing the same man for months in order to capture a handsome reward for crimes he committed in Texas.
I won't get into more plot details here, but let's just say that along the way, it becomes pretty clear who the person in the story with the "true grit" really is. And when I think about qualities I respect most in colleagues, partners, teammates or leaders, I always find myself coming back to "true grit" as being one I hold in highest regard.
What does it mean to have "true grit" in business? I look at it as comprising these characteristics:
- Single-mindedness. People with "true grit" set goals and pursue them relentlessly no matter what the conditions or obstacles may be. This requires discipline, focus, a certain fearless nature, and an ability to ignore the distractions that may hinder you from getting what you want.
- Adaptability. You can set a path to achieve a goal, but you will inevitably find that conditions will change along your journey that require you adapt and re-think that path. If you have "true grit", you deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, and possible setbacks to correct your course so that you and your team stays on task.
- Idealism. People I have come across throughout my career that I would associate with having "true grit" are the ones that have an uncanny ability to suspend conventional wisdom or belief and accomplish their goals, regardless of what others may think as being possible. Can you be the first salesperson to close a seven-figure deal when the average deal size at your firm is five? Can you be the product development team that delivers a new innovation in half the time you think it can be done with half the resources? People with "true grit" take on these types of challenges, ignore the naysayers, and make things happen.
Interestingly, people I know that possess these traits tend not to be the most widely liked or politically savvy in organizations. They are not warm and fuzzy--but if you think about it, something that is "gritty" isn't supposed be now, is it? People who show "true grit" in business are okay with that, because they ultimately know that the job will get done the way it is supposed to get done, no matter what. In the end, the people on the team that we view has having "true grit" may not necessarily end up with the title of "leader" or even be the most talented, but are known and respected as the heart of the team. They are not afraid to lead by example. I like to refer to them as the "honey badgers" of the organization, and they are invaluable.
When the movie ended, I turned to my daughter, who almost immediately resumed her texting as soon as the credits started rolling, and asked what she thought of the story. Did she understand the underlying message? Was she inspired like I was? Without looking up from the intense gaze she had upon her smartphone, she replied with an eyeroll, "Sure Dad, if someone killed you, I'd totally go hunt them down in the wilderness to avenge your death or whatever. Or I'd, like, pay someone to do it." Not exactly the answer I was seeking, but I'll take what I can get these days.